- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Commander Kal Wardin returns to take back Earth, with the aid of rebel soldiers, in N.O.V.A. 3: Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance (Gameloft, rated 12+, reviewed for iPad 2, $6.99), a dynamic first-person shooter built for Apple’s mobile gaming dynamo.

Within this third iteration of the famed sci-fi franchise, a plan by the humans to use a stolen Judger artifact to resurrect their planet has piqued the ferocious interest of the evil humanoid Volterites, who are looking to use the artifact as a weapon of mass destruction.

The decidedly Halo-style action runs through a 10-level solo campaign that can mix saving fellow troops, meeting with the A.I. Yelena (now personified) and omnipotent Prometheus, and taking part in big-budget moments such as standing on the back of a moving and modified Humvee (I’m not calling it a Warthog) while operating a gun turret, destroying an enemy mech with a rocket launcher and fighting across moving transports.

Our warrior, with a distinct look that meshes an orbital shock-drop trooper with Crysis’ Nomad, has at his disposal a joyous selection of weapons (sniper rifle, shot gun, grenade launcher, plasma gun, stand-alone machine guns, a mech suit, to name a few) and a potent set of powers, including a shock wave, the ability to paralyze enemies and a way to slow down time.

His range of movements is impressive and the intuitive controls make the frenetic firefights against enemy alien forces painless.

Use the left thumb on the touch screen to wield a virtual directional pad and tap a run icon while the right thumb can tap to target, fire weapons, jump, throw a grenade or sticky mine, select a weapon (a simple swipe), reload or use a power. Also, a control option to use the iPad’s gyroscopic motion sensing can really bring the battles the life.

Success in missions equals an accumulation of credits to upgrade Kal’s arsenal with a supply of experimental weapons (the lightning gun is quickly attainable) and increased powers.

Those impatient with collecting credits will be offered an in-app purchase option that starts at $1.99. However, it’s totally unnecessary to love the game.

Despite the grim, battle-worn surroundings, the locations explored using the iPad 2 are stunning and make the player feel like he’s holding a portable Xbox system. Just take a stroll through a decaying urban metropolis with crumbling skyscrapers set under ominous cloud formations or visit an ancient vessel in a faraway galaxy.

Players will appreciate graphic details down to shattering glass, funneling plumes of smoke, fiery explosions, sun beams, splattering blood effects, translucent floors, molten valleys and even exhaust from fired weapons.

The addition of local and online multiplayer modes allows up to 12 warriors to fight through six modes with the familiar team death match and capture-the-flag leading the charge.

Nuances include multiple weapons loadouts, rewarding kill chains (temporary advantages given to soldiers for consecutive kills), purchasing and unlocking armaments and add-ons (get me that flamethrower), and working with team members to control vehicles.

During the online fun, I quickly signed up for an account and experienced lag-free play for hours as a purple-armored death deliverer. Although it was difficult to take out the competition (one guy with black armor, a lightning gun and jetpack was brutal), it definitely was some great on-the-go entertainment.

N.O.V.A. 3 deftly demonstrates the iPad’s gaming might and delivers one heck of a rousing mobile adventure at an incredible price.